The 2009 NFL season is just around the corner now. We're four games away from the first regular season game - but that doesn't mean we don't still have some football to look at this month. The Titans and Bill got the preseason started and in a pleasing way I might add, but the Dallas Cowboys start this Thursday night against Oakland, in Oakland.
Millions are watching to see what the Cowboys are going to do this season. Not only because Terrell Owens was cut, not only because of how badly they lost to the Eagles in the 2008 regular season finale, and not only because our injury prone team is seeming just that, injury prone - and it's still before their first preseason game.
Training camp injuries for us are like pads and helmets - don't step on the field without 'em. That's how it's been going since Felix Jones first went down last year, and he wasn't even the first injury of the year. Terence Newman was the first last year, and he was either first or a damn close second this year too, with Mike Jenkins possibly edging him out on that one. Their injuries aren't supposed to be serious, but our DB core will be missing both of its starting corners for this weeks game and why shouldn't they sit out? After last year, I don't think there is a man in this organization that doesn't think long and hard about playing a hurt guy.
But there's still so much more to it - the first preseason game - so I've got my fellow fans here to help me break it all down for you, one unit at a time. First up?
Finally the time has come for the 2009-10 NFL season to begin for the Dallas Cowboys. Thursday night in Oakland the Cowboys will have their first of four PreSeason games.
This is the most meaningless game of the four simply because the starters will only play the first two series, from then on we will get the largest look at the rest of the team.
Wade Phillips starts his campaign as the Defensive Coordinator and we can expect to see a fairly extensive blitz package. So far in training camp Wade has blitzed the Cowboys Offense with every opportunity. The defensive question marks coming into the season are the same things we saw the 'Boys struggle with last year.
- Interior Run Defense
- Ability to Force Turnovers
While this is a meaningless game, here are a few things to keep a watchful eye on.
- The play of the Defensive line (Are they able to hold up at the point of attack?)
- The play of Junior Siavii (Can he play well enough to spell J Ratt?)
- T New and Mike Jenkins will not play so keep an eye on Scandrick and the rest
- The Rookie Linebackers (Can the defense still function at a high level with them in the game?)
- With all the blitzing going on have the Cowboys upgraded their depth at the Safety positions?
The Oakland Raiders, like the Cowboys, have a wealth of talent in the backfield, so they should allow the Coaching staff to get a good look at the defensive front.
The Raiders also have a ton of speed in their receivers, add that to the blitz equation and we should be able to get a decent idea on the strength - or lack there of - in the secondary. Here is my list of players to keep an eye on.
- Michael Hamlin (This guy has been around the ball in every practice but can he do it in a game?)
- Mike Mickens (Missed the OTA’s and has been struggling so far in camp. His time with the Cowboys may depend on his performance in this game.)
- Bobby Carpenter (Once again having a very solid Training Camp, but can he finally carry that over into an actual game?)
- Courtney Brown and Alan Ball (Can they impress enough to impede the progress of the rookies? Or will they struggle and open the door for Mickens?)
I really hate the preseason! Forces me to look solely at the moving parts instead of the sum of those parts! Enjoy the game!
Defensive analysis provided by Bags030404
Whats the Scoop?
The Dallas Cowboys will head to Oakland for a preseason battle. The Cowboys offense will come showing a little bit of a new flare. The implementation of new formations and personnel will make the Cowboys a bit of a different team, but surely still one of the most talented teams in the league.
What to expect?
Expect… Tony Romo to get a few good series’ in. He will finally get the opportunity to display his offseason work that has been heavily criticized. Directly connected to the progression and development of Tony Romo will be this years receiver corp. A young group that will feature Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton, with Sam Hurd and Miles Austin providing solid talent and depth. You should expect to see more of Hurd and Austin thAn anything else.
The most important thing that you should expect is a lot of risky play calling that will take advantage of the exhibition game. Expect Jason Garrett to experiment with his running backs in two back sets and also moving them into receiver slots. This game will provide the Cowboys a lot of perspective as to what will work and what won't. Keep an eye on the possibility of the Razorback (Wildcat) formation.
What to look for?
First team offense:
Once again look for consistency in Tony Romo and the First team offense. This is crucial to understanding where the Cowboys will land this season. Look for timing, pass release, and snaps from center. Your eyes should be peeled for limited penalties from the O-line and maximum protection. From the tight ends you want to see that both Witten and Bennett are involved in the game together, look for multiple tight end formations or formations that have tight ends spread out or in the fullback position.
The possibility of new formation alignment is the most intriguing. With so many versatile players you’ll see everyone lined up everywhere. Felix Jones can play receiver, Barber can play fullback, Bennett and Witten can play receiver or fullback, and Crayton and Austin can move into the slot to perform, as well as Hurd playing in the #2 slot. Stanback and Crayton can play Razorback quarterback, and Felix Jones will see a lot of different situations.
Second and Third team offense:
Not too much that is going to matter a whole lot. Kitna will get some play but he’s a proven veteran. Expect and anticipate a strong showing from McGee. He’s been slow so far in camp, having trouble and getting shaken in the pocket. He’ll need to find his confidence and a preseason game can really aid that.
The most important battle to keep an eye on will be receiver. The Cowboys are expected to only keep 5 and 4 spots are locked up. Stanback has come on strong but Manuel Johnson, Holley-wood, and Kevin Ogletree have all impressed a bit in camp. As they’ll all get the second half to show what they can do, expect someone to begin to break away.
A lot will be tested and proven in this game against Oakland. Hopefully our First team will get some chemistry going and it’ll provide some calmness to settle over a very criticized unit. A lot of young talent sits in our system and we’ll get to see some of it Thursday night!
Offensive analysis provided by Bryan Martin
During this year’s draft, Special Team’s was a focus, drafting 9 players out of 12 with their ability to contribute to this side of the ball in mind. Granted, there may be a future in the starting line up for many of these players, but this year their roster spot will likely be earned flying down the field on kick off and punt coverage and throwing blocks where needed on the opposite side of the spectrum.
Whereas on Offense and Defense, where we will likely only see the starters for the first few series, throughout the game when the Special Team’s take the field, what you see in Preseason will be very close to what you get in the Regular season, when it comes to the skill positions: Mat McBriar will be the punter, Nick Folk, will likely be handling the extra points and Field Goals and handling the kick off duties will likely be the freak of nature phenomenon David Buehler (pronounced Beeler, for those not already in the know). Outside of those positions, though, are the plethora of bubble-boy’s.
The Special Teams portion of Thursday night’s game will grant us the truest picture of how we did in the Draft, since it’s too early to expect these rookies to perform within a new defense and offense at the top of their potential. For instance, while many people have thought that some of these rookies are slower than their combine’s/pro day’s suggested, the veterans have contended that their problem is not physical speed, but mental speed (e.g. their reaction time). The mental side of offense and defense comes with experience. On Special Team’s, though, their physical speed should be evident.
What to look for:
- Touchbacks. Can Buehler routinely kick it into the endzone in game situations?
- How will coverage perform, particularly with the recent change in the rules, which prevents the kick return team from forming a wedge of 3 or more players?
- Has Matt McBriar returned to form after suffering a season ending injury last year to his kicking foot?
- Is Nick Folk still clutch?
- Lastly, and most importantly in my mind, what rookie and/or perennial benchwarmer embraces Special Team’s ala Keith Davis and emerges as the new leader. Personally, with as many unit’s as he will likely be featured on, I’d like to see Buehler assume this role, though it may be too soon in his career.
Special teams analysis provided by Jonathan
5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule
Every year around this time, sports fans everywhere are reminded of just how dominant the National Football League is. The NFL schedule release is literally just the sharing of a calendar that has little meaning until after next week's NFL Draft, but still dominates headlines both before and after the event.
If the Dallas Cowboys are going to return to the playoffs in 2018, we now know the path they will take -- beginning on September 9th in Carolina against the Panthers.
Here are five of my initial thoughts on this team's schedule.
1. "Early" Bye Week Still Later Than Recent Seasons
The Cowboys' bye week falls in week eight this season, which is certainly nothing new. This team is used to having their bye earlier in the season, but week eight is actually the latest it's been over the last three seasons.
In Dak Prescott's rookie season, the Cowboys rolled to six straight wins following their bye week - all part of a longer 11 game win streak. In 2017, the Cowboys played their final three games with Ezekiel Elliott after the bye, improving to 5-3 and inspiring hope for a salvageable season before further injuries piled up.
This season, the Cowboys will come out of their bye week to host Monday Night Football at AT&T Stadium against the Tennessee Titans.
2. AFC South to Play A Huge Factor
Speaking of the Titans, it is the NFC East's year to face off against the AFC South. This has been an unpredictable division as of late, with the Jacksonville Jaguars emerging as early favorites following their improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.
Unlike the NFC East, the AFC South has been decided by who maintains stability at quarterback. The Colts are hoping to contend with Andrew Luck back on the field in 2018, as are the Texans with second-year QB Deshaun Watson.
The Titans overhauled their coaching staff in hopes of progressing QB Marcus Mariota further to make a run at the playoffs once again.
For the Cowboys, their meetings with the AFC South will carry extra weight - as all but one of them precedes a divisional game in some sense. Following back to back games at the Texans and home against the Jaguars, the Cowboys will visit the Redskins in week seven.
The first shot Dallas will get at the defending Super Bowl champions will be November 11th in Philadelphia, two weeks removed from their bye after facing the Titans.
Coming out of two games in 12 days through weeks 12 (Thanksgiving) and 13, the Cowboys will have little chance to come up for air against the Eagles in week 14. Their chance to regroup may come the following week, with a favorable December road game in Indianapolis against the Colts.
3. Revenge Against the Falcons
The Cowboys' week 10 game a year ago in Atlanta is truly where the 2017 season was lost. Playing without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys looked lost on offense thanks to the added absence of All-Pro Left Tackle Tyron Smith.
The Cowboys' fight to carry on at 5-4 was buried into the Falcons' new turf, as was Dak Prescott that afternoon, sacked eight times.
Only a week removed on the calendar from meeting the Falcons on the same date, the Cowboys will again play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in week 11 this season. The chance for revenge against the Falcons will also mark the only pair of consecutive road games this 2018 Dallas Cowboys team will play.
4. Running Through December
The national media may not want you to know that the Cowboys are a combined 6-2 in December over the last two seasons, as this team's fabled late season collapses remain a topic of conversation.
This point also stands as a great example of why breaking down team schedules in April is often a pointless exercise, but not obsessing over every twist and turn of the NFL as a yearly hobby is no fun. According to me.
It is no secret that the Cowboys will be relying heavily on Ezekiel Elliott in 2018, expecting their star running back to suit up for 16 games and carry the offense. If you believe that Prescott and Elliott paired together full-time again is enough reason for optimism about the Cowboys, their December schedule becomes even more favorable.
Aside from playing three of the four games indoors and away from the elements, the Cowboys will face three of the worst rushing defenses in yards per game allowed from last season in December. With the Eagles being the glaring exception (leading the league in this category), the Cowboys should have their way on the ground with the Colts, Buccaneers, and Giants over their final three games.
5. Thanksgiving Tradition
For the second time in three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys were victorious on Thanksgiving in 2016 over the Redskins, 31-26.
The Cowboys have only lost to the Redskins once on Thanksgiving, facing them a total of eight times and dropping a 2012 bout with Washington 38-31 (Robert Griffin III's rookie season with the Redskins).
Riding a four game winning streak against the Redskins, the Cowboys get to face an Alex Smith led Washington team on Thanksgiving to wrap up their first series against the NFC East. Following week 12, the Cowboys will still have meetings with the Eagles and New York Giants.
Some may look at this year's division as a two-team race, but counting absolutely any team out of an NFC East race is foolish - even more so in April.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
By this time next week, the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to look entirely different - adding as many as ten players at the 2018 NFL Draft. Only then will we have a better feel for how they stack up against this 2018 schedule.
Stay posted right here to Inside The Star for draft coverage live from Dallas, as I will be at AT&T Stadium for all seven rounds of picks alongside Slant Sports Draft Analyst Nick Flaherty.
Cowboys TE James Hanna Retiring
In an unexpected bit of pre-draft news, Dallas Cowboys backup tight end James Hanna will be retiring after six seasons. He was drafted by the Cowboys in sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
The news of Hanna's retirement was first reported by ESPN's Todd Archer:
The Cowboys will place James Hanna on the reserve/retired list as the tight end could not get over a serious knee condition that troubled him for most of the last two seasons, according to sources. Hanna was not involved in the early part of the team's... https://t.co/45BAZ2avSC
Hanna, who turns 29 in July, missed all of 2016 with that knee issue and has had two surgeries. He was active for all 16 games last season but wasn't used much on offense, only having four catches. James did catch his first and only NFL touchdown in the team's Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Many thought Hanna would be a salary cap casualty this offseason, but a retirement has the same effect on the cap. The Cowboys now save $2.75 million off his scheduled $3.5 mullion cap hit in 2018.
James Hanna has stuck around this long thanks to being a proficient blocker and one of the standout players on special teams. Geoff Swaim, entering the final year of his rookie deal, will likely be trusted to fill those roles.
That said, tight end was already a targeted position for the Cowboys in next week's draft. Losing Hanna only give the team more incentive to add more talent.
Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory
Good news are coming to Dallas just in time. Less than a week from now, the NFL Draft will be held in the Cowboys' home, the AT&T Stadium. But the team may count with a defensive talent many in Cowboys Nation have tried to forget for a while now. Randy Gregory's comeback may just happen.
There's a lot of positions in the roster that need more help than the defensive end one, but after finding the "War Daddy" Jerry Jones has always wanted in DeMarcus Lawrence, finding a RDE this offseason would be a dream scenario.
Sure, there's a lot of young talent in this football team and they'll be coming off a season that put a chip on their shoulders. Even so, they'll need all the help they can get.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, some help could come in form of a very talented pass rusher. Randy Gregory is reportedly applying for reinstatement very soon and according to Mike Fisher and Bobby Belt, there are positive reports around the situation.
Randy Gregory update: I'm told there is real momentum building. He is expected to apply for reinstatement in the week or two following next week's NFL Draft.
Cowboys Nation last saw the second round pick back in 2016, but his potential shouldn't be forgotten. Of course, the Cowboys shouldn't be considering Gregory for their 2018 plans, simply because there's risk of him not being available.
Even still, Dallas may get lucky at defensive end. After DeMarcus Lawrence has a breakout season in 2017, imagine the defensive line with Randy Gregory reinstated and rehabilitated to exploit his talent in the NFL.
UPDATE: We're told Randy Gregory camp is ready to present to NFL the fact the #Cowboys DE has passed a large number of drug tests, hasn't failed one since July 2016. https://t.co/Hjgu2CqRtC
Despite some TMZ "reports", it looks like Gregory has been clean for a while. It sure should make Cowboys' fans happy and not only form a football perspective. A comeback would definitely be something amazing. He has a chance to write a unique story for himself.
Everyone likes second-chance stories. Gregory is a guy who had his share of problems. By coming back to the NFL, he's showing players and fans that change is possible. This wouldn't just be epic for Dallas Cowboys fans but NFL fans in general.
If Dallas is fortunate enough to see Gregory reinstated by the NFL, their fight in the trenches might see a big upgrade next season. Randy still has a lot to work on and he might not even be a starter right away, but the potential is right there.
The Cowboys could become a team capable of dominating the line of scrimmage both on offense and on defense.
Hopefully, Gregory is able to come back and shine as a professional player. He, and NFL fans deserve a story like that.
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